After a four-game road trip that saw them play three games on the West Coast in the space of two weeks, with a visit to Chicago sandwiched in between, the New York Red Bulls finally get a taste of home cooking when they host Toronto FC at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday evening.
Had the Red Bulls taken care of business at home before departing for the Pacific Northwest, the 0-1-3 record they amassed on their recent travels might be considered respectable. As it stands, however, they have now drawn the majority of their matches (ten out of eighteen) and look like anything but MLS Cup or Supporters' Shield contenders. Goalkeeping errors and defensive miscues have characterized the Red Bulls' play of late, and they have had a maddening tendency to throw away early leads. That hasn't stopped Sporting Director Erik Solér from stating, with some confidence, that New York will finish the season atop the Eastern Conference. For that to happen, they will need to start collecting points immediately. Philadelphia Union leads the Red Bulls by two points in the standings, with a game in hand.Once trumpeted as the model MLS franchise, Toronto FC has been plagued office turbulence and coaching turnover that makes New York look like a model of stability - and that's saying something. Dutchman Aron Winter was brought in this season to overhaul the squad and change the style of play to a more offensive-minded and passing-oriented 4-3-3, but it has been a bumpy ride. Winter recently handed off the day-to-day coaching reins to Bob DeKlerk and moved upstairs to assume the title of Technical Director. Through eighteen games, Toronto has conceded the most goals in MLS (29) and has the league's worst goal difference (-12). However, they come into this match on a two-game winning streak, having bested Vancouver Whitecaps in both league play (1-0) and the Nutrilite Canadian Championship (2-1).
Toronto FC made an early splash in the summer transfer window, signing both midfielder Torsten Frings and striker Danny Koevermans to designated player contracts. Neither will play on Wednesday, as the signings will not become official until July 15. In attack, Toronto's front line during their recent two-game winning streak has consisted of Javier Martina, Joao Plata and Nick Soolsma. Both Alan Gordon and Maicon Santos have been recovering from knocks. Former Red Bulls Tony Tchani and Danleigh Borman will be returning to Red Bull Arena for the first time since they were traded for Dwayne De Rosario.
For the Red Bulls, Luke Rodgers is back in the fold and could play, though it's doubtful he'll be in the starting XI. Thierry Henry, who missed Saturday's 2-2 draw in California with "flu-like symptoms" is also expected to be back in the lineup. Who Hans Backe decides to play in goal is anyone's guess. It's a Hobson's Choice at the moment between Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton. Will he have the guts to select Alex Horwath? It seems unlikely. Jan Gunnar Solli is also a bit of a doubt, having left the San Jose game early with an injury.
Kickoff is at 8:00 PM ET. The match will be shown locally on MSG Plus. For those not able to make it out to Harrison, we will have a live match thread for you here on Once a Metro.